PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – So, Mr. Grooves Man, are we winning the War on Grooves?
“We had a staff meeting, and I told everybody that we’re not landing on a battleship and declaring victory,” replied Mr. Grooves Man, alias Dick Rugge, senior technical director of the USGA.
This was Rugge’s way of reminding his staff they should not be characterizing 2010 groove regulations on the PGA Tour as a success, even though these new grooves appear so far to be achieving their stated objective.
All along that objective has been simple: Restore accuracy off the tee as an important and crucial part of winning (new grooves make escape shots from the rough more difficult by reducing the spin on iron and wedge shots from thicker grass).
“It’s way too early to make any judgments,” Rugge said. “We need more time, more evidence, more statistics.”
Comparing the War on Grooves to the War on Terror may not be so far-fetched, even though Rugge is careful to say there will be no public pronouncements such as George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003.
Here’s the scoop:
• On the modern PGA Tour, any correlation between driving accuracy and winning had disappeared entirely. Now, halfway through the 2010 schedule, that correlation has returned to a level last seen in the 1990s.
• Golfers who drive the ball straight are reaping more rewards and winning more tournaments this season.
• Winners of 14 separate PGA Tour events have hit more than two-thirds of the fairways during their respective victories. Justin Rose hit 82.1 percent in winning the Memorial, while Tim Clark, Jason Bohn, Jim Furyk, Hunter Mahan, Dustin Johnson and Bill Haas eclipsed 75 percent in winning.
Why did the correlation go away in the first place? Rugge gave two answers: the development of aggressive grooves and a dramatic increase in driving distance. In other words, players didn’t fear long but crooked drives in the rough because they could hit escape shots with spin.
Rugge and his staff are monitoring all kinds of statistics, not just fairways hit. If there is anything to be learned from grooves, it will not escape Mr. Grooves Man.